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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“Geisha Hisae with a Towel” by Goyō Hashiguchi

Hashiguchi Goyo - Geisha Hisae with a Towel

“Geisha Hisae with a Towel” by Goyō Hashiguchi

“Geisha Hisae with a Towel” by Goyō Hashiguchi is a colour woodblock print, from 1920’s Japan. The artist had a late calling to the traditional woodblock print after a career of illustration in other media. He was inspired by the old techniques and admiration for the great portraits of beautiful women by Kitagawa Utamaro.

Goyō Hashiguchi’s perfectionism led to his publishing only a handful of prints, each one technically excellent with a nostalgic passion for the art of the period. The exceptional wood cutting of the black blocks to portray the intricacies of women’s hair was an Ukiyo-e tradition which Goyo has enthusiastically revived. To ensure a significant impact he also restricted his palette to a few colours. Hashiguchi had a short time of only two years to produce these superb masterworks, apart from his first print published with Watanabe before he died aged forty-two.

His blocks for fourteen prints and many of the prints were destroyed in the Great Kantō earthquake of 1923. Most reprints are marked with a small seal in the side margin, something which does not appear on original prints. Today works by Goyō are among the most highly prized of all Shin-hanga prints.

Kitagawa Utamaro

Kitagawa Utamaro (1753 – 1806) was a Japanese artist who is one of the most highly regarded designers of ukiyo-e woodblock prints and paintings. He is best known for his pictures of beautiful women of the 1790s. He rose to prominence in the early 1790s with his portraits of women with exaggerated, elongated features. He produced over 2,000 prints and was one of the few ukiyo-e artists to achieve fame throughout Japan in his lifetime.

Utamaro’s work reached Europe in the mid-nineteenth century, where it was viral, enjoying particular acclaim in France. He influenced the European Impressionists, particularly with his use of partial views and his emphasis on light and shade, which they imitated. The reference to the “Japanese influence” among these artists often refers to the work of Utamaro.

Ukiyo-e

Ukiyo-e is a Japanese art form which flourished from the 17th through 19th centuries. Its artists produced woodblock prints and paintings of such subjects as female beauties; kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers; scenes from history and folk tales; travel scenes and landscapes; flora and fauna. The word ukiyo-e translates as “pictures of the floating world”. The term ukiyo or “floating world” came to describe the hedonistic lifestyle that was available during the late 17th century in Edo, which today is modern Tokyo. Printed or painted ukiyo-e images of this environment emerged and were popular with the merchant class, who had become wealthy enough to afford to decorate their homes with them.

Take-Aways

  • Ukiyo (“floating, fleeting, or transient world”) describes the urban lifestyle, especially the pleasure-seeking aspects, of the Edo-period Japan (1600–1867).
  • Edo is the former name of Tokyo.
  • Ukiyo-e is a genre of Japanese art which flourished from the 17th through 19th centuries
  • Kitagawa Utamaro (1753 – 1806) was a Japanese artist who was one of the most highly regarded designers of ukiyo-e woodblock prints and paintings.
  • Goyō Hashiguchi (1880 – 1921) was an artist in Japan was inspired by the old techniques and the portraits of beautiful women by Kitagawa Utamaro.
  • Shin-hanga (“new woodcut prints”) was an art movement in early 20th-century Japan, that revitalised traditional ukiyo-e art rooted in the Edo and Meiji periods (17th–19th century).
  • In the traditional ukiyo-e collaborative movement, the artist, carver, printer, and publisher engaged in the division of labour and skill.
  • The sōsaku-hanga movement advocated the principles of “self-drawn”, “self-carved” and “self-printed”, according to which the artist, with the desire of expressing the self, as the sole creator of art.

Geisha Hisae with a Towel

  • Title:                    Geisha Hisae with a Towel
  • Artist:                  Goyō Hashiguchi
  • Published:          1920
  • Culture:               Japanese
  • Writing:               Japanese
  • Material:             Woodblock print on paper
  • Museum:            Walters Art Museum

Goyō Hashiguchi

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“Cold tea and cold rice are bearable, but cold looks and cold words are not.”
– Japanese Proverb

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Photo Credit: 1) Goyō Hashiguchi [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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